An arraignment is a court meeting where you are given written notice about any charges you are facing. The arraignment should take place within 48 hours of being brought to jail. The judge will read you the charges in full.
After being read the charges, you must decide how to plead. You will need to enter your plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest at the arraignment, and the judge will set bail.
Some states call this meeting the initial court appearance.
All criminal procedures follow an arraignment process that protects a defendant’s rights in the Sixth Amendment. These Constitutional rights promise you:
You have the right to counsel and to be assigned a public defender if you do not hire your own criminal defense attorney.
The arraignment court appearance will help determine the date for your trial based on how you plead. You have three options:
You are not bound by a not guilty plea. Depending on discussions with your criminal defense lawyer and the prosecution, you can later change your plea to guilty, for example as part of a plea bargain.
A preliminary hearing is not the same thing as an arraignment. A judge will have a preliminary hearing to hear the evidence and decide if the prosecution has enough evidence to continue. A judge can dismiss the case if it lacks probable cause that you committed a crime. It is rare that a judge will dismiss the case at this stage, however.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or time in jail are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are arrested or learn you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you determine the best way to proceed with mounting a defense.